Worship of Lord Brahma, Part 33

BY: SUN STAFF - 19.1 2018

Arunachala Temple, Thiruvannamalai

A serial exploration of places of Lord Brahma's worship.

Lord Brahma at Thiruvannamalai

Forty-five kilometers southwest of Chennai, and 104 km. inland, due west from Marakkanam, is the temple town of Thiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu. Thiruvannaamalai is home to a famous temple by that name, also known as Arunachala in Sanskrit, or Annamalayar. It is one of the most recognizable temple complexes in South India. Among the many extraordinary features of this temple is the imposing Arunachaleshwar Hill, which is said to embody the Trimurti deities. Often called Brahma Hillock, this natural shrine embodies a deep sense of the divine, and has been a place of pilgrimage for countless ages by yogis and siddhas of all traditions.

Arunachala Temple Complex

Like the 12 Jyothi lingas found in central and northern India, Thiruvannaamalai is one of the Pancha Bootha lingas in South India, each of which represents one of the elements. Thejo Linga (fire) is embodied at Thiruvannaamalai, which is one of the largest temple compounds in all of India.

The pastime of Shiva, Brahma and Visnu and the unending pillar of fire is associated with this temple, as it is with many Shiva temples in the region. At Thiruvannaamalai, this pastime is celebrated each year during Shivaratri and the Kartikai Deepam Utsavams.

Temples Gopurams framed against Brahma Hillock

It is interesting to note that the official Thiruvannaamalai Temple website, like so many other temples, claims to be the only place other than Pushkar where Lord Brahma is worshipped. While we typically find the minimization of Brahma worship due to the famed curse, we also find so many temples who purport to be "the only other" place of Brahma's worship, and this is certainly a strange phenomenon.

Sri Brahma Hillock

At Thiruvannaamalai, Lord Brahma's pastime with the pillar of fire is associated with Brahma Hillock, which is said to have manifested on Shivarathri day. Located on this earth formation, or Udhbhava, is a Shiva temple called Arunachaleswara. A big oil lamp is lighted there on Karthika Poornima day, and devotees throng to witness the event. The Hillock itself is said to have been comprised of agni (fire) in Kritayuga, gold (swarna) in Trethayuga, copper (Thamabana) in Dwapara Yuga and red rock in this Kali yuga. 

Devotees are recommended to circumambulate Brahma Hillock in a clockwise direction, particularly on full moon days. Thousands of devotees come to do so, walking barefoot along the 14 km. Giripradakshinam, with the belief that the Udhbhava is a wish-fulfilling hill. The base of the hill appears in the form of Sri Chakra, with bindu as the center. Sri Ramana Maharishi believed that this place forms the bindu of the entire world. The hillock is nearly 2,700 feet high. At its peak is the most sacred spot, known as 'the divine foot'.

Parikrama Marg

Thiruvannaamalai's Arunachala Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, and the presiding deities here are Sri Arunachaleswarar (or Annamalayaar) Shivalinga, and Unnamalayal Devi (or Apitakuchambaal, Parvati). There is also a deity of Lord Brahma here, in the form of Brahma-lingam, which is housed in a separate shrine. And, the temple theertham is Brahma Theertham.

Four famed Saivite saints sang this temple: Appar, Sambandar, Manikkavacakar, and Sundarar. The well known saint Ramana Maharishi had his asrama here. Thiruvannaamalai is mentioned in the Shiva Purana as one of four sacred places for getting liberation, and the greatness of Arunachala is stated in this sloka:

"While a birth at Thiruvarur, darsan of Shiva at Chidambaram, dying at Kasi (Varanasi) will ensure liberation, a mere remembrance of Arunachala is sufficient for liberation."

Arunachala is also considered to be an Athara Sthalam, a group of six holy sites, of which it is known as Manipooraga Sthalam. These places are so sacred that the demigods and celestials come to offer prayers here. Lord Visnu, Brahma, the Eight Vasus, Surya and Candra have all offered worship here.

Sri Brahma Lingam Shrine

Built between the 16th and 17th centuries by kings of the Vijayanagara empire, the complex has four massive gopurams that can be seen for miles around. The four main gopurams punctuate a fortified wall that encompasses the compound, having four entrances at each of the main gopurams. Altogether, there are nine gopurams on the 24-acre complex. An inscription is found on the inner west prakara, on the 10th pillar, dated to the 10th year of Udaiyar Rajaraja-deva. It says that his queen, Abhimanavalli, set-up the images of Siva, Brahma and Visnu-as a boar to illustrate the Arunachola-mahatmya.

Sri Brahma Theertham

The 11-tier Rajagopuram in the east is a towering 217 feet high. The other three main gopurams are Pei Gopuram (west), Tirumanjana Gopuram (south) and Ammanaiammal Gopuram (north). The Rajagopuram is very lavishly ornamented with sculptures.

There is a pillared hall with 1,000 columns, each ornately decorated, and a temple tank built by Krishna Deva Rayarar. Each of the prakarams has a huge Nandi and several subsidiary towers, such as the Vallala Maharaja Gopuram and Kili Gopuram. 

There are eight lingams located at the eight cardinal directions on the property, and these provide an octagonal structure to Tiruvannamalai compound. The eight lingams are Indra Lingam, Agni Lingam, Ema Lingam, Niruthi Lingam, Varuna Lingam, Vayu Lingam, Kubera Lingam and Esanya Lingam.

1,000 Pillared Hall

The Arunachala Temple complex is so extensive and elaborately decorated that we can't begin to describe its splendour. In fact, we cannot even mention all the shrines and mandaps on the properly.

Karthigai Deepam Festival

Like the temple complex itself, the festival schedule at Arunacala Mandir is extensive. Four Brahmotsavams are celebrated each year, the most famous of which is held during the Tamil month of Karthikai (November/December). The ten-day event culminates on Karthigai Deepam, when the huge lamp is lit atop Brahma Hillock. The lamp is placed in a cauldron with three tons of ghee on top.